By Jade Ortego
Killen Daily Herald
The fight over Killeen city employee health benefits ended in an impasse Tuesday night.
The city council, generally displeased with a lack of options, first voted to approve the contract's renewal with Scott & White Insurance, then voted it down, and then voted to table the issue until a special meeting Tuesday.
Health care premiums for city employees would go up 27 percent with the renewal of the city's contract. With the city paying the highest fraction of employee insurance allowable by its budget, some workers would still be left paying more than $600 a month to insure family members.
Councilman Larry Cole led the charge against the renewal.
"There's quite a bit of confusion, consternation and disappointment from the city employees on the program," Cole said.
Council members reported getting e-mails and phone calls about the high expense of health insurance. Some city employees make $17,000 to $19,000 a year.
"It hurts me when I hear that some of our employees need to get a second or even a third job in order to survive. Even if they pay $600 for the family, that's $7,200. That's almost half of that income," said Councilman Juan Rivera.
No plan involving different insurance providers were presented. Debbie Maynor, the city's director of human resources, said the deadline for implementing a plan is Sept. 1. That isn't enough time, she said, to put the city's insurance up for bid.
"It's a monster," Brenda Essenburg, city director of general services, said of the bidding process she called difficult and time-consuming.
"It is a monster," responded Councilwoman JoAnn Purser. "And it's affecting 1,600 of our employees and their families … if there was anything we could do, I like us to advertise for bid."
Maynor and Essenburg said that any other insurance program would probably be as expensive.
"The cost of family care has always been more expensive than any other aspect of the plan. For those employees who are making less than $25,000 and could not afford the family care on this new plan, the chances are unfortunately they couldn't afford any other plan either because of the cost of health care," Maynor said.
But many council members said they thought more could have been done earlier to find a plan with lower premiums. Many pointed out that the same issue came up last year.
"Are we really seeing what's in front of us? Do we have a monopoly here?" asked Councilman Kenny Wells.
The council voted 4-3 to approve the renewal. Those who approved it expressed fear that not doing so would result in employees being left with no or more expensive insurance.
Councilman Billy Workman then announced he'd changed his vote, effectively making it 4-3 against the renewal. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper motioned to table the issue until Tuesday, after special workshops could be held with employees who oppose the renewal.
Contact Jade Ortego at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.